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Gentle Giant - Three Friends  CD (album) cover

THREE FRIENDS

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.12 | 837 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review 59, Three Friends, Gentle Giant, 1972, or 1, or 3, but I'm too lazy to check

StarStarStarStar

Three Friends is a concept album of a very different kind. While most concept albums are lovably overblown and twisted or depressive and moping, Three Friends is (in the Wish You Were Here/DSOTM mould) conceptually simple, touching, and profound. Brilliant observations and characterisations follow, and the lyrical material is well above the average. Musically, unlike my other Gentle Giant album (I'm working on it :p...), Acquiring The Taste, it makes use of comparatively few instruments: guitars, bass, violin, keys, sax, drums, but these are all used with taste and quality, and, besides, are more than most bands handle in their time. The really stunning features of the album are again the precision and arrangement of the playing, especially the vocal parts on Schooldays. While this isn't Acquiring The Taste, nor, I suspect, any other Gentle Giant album, it is nonetheless an extremely strong release. More conventional, perhaps, but no less skilfully handled.

Prologue, the album's nod to an overture, begins with a delicate drum roll, after which chordal piano, saxes and throbbing keys contribute to create the generally constructive, busy feel. Some supremely handled bass hums give a backing depth to the introduction, and volumes are carefully modulated for effect. The vocals, introducing the album's theme, chime together clearly, expressing the 'togetherness' or ties that I believe the music is expressing. After a bit of clear organ-bass exchanging, the piece moves on calmly, but with definite intent, through a gradual building of the main theme. A good opener, even if it perhaps goes on a little longer than it needs to to make its point.

Schooldays is perhaps the album's crowning glory, with a range of percussion, including xylophone/glockenspiel as well as the tapped percussion typical of the album. The arrangement is entirely immaculate, with e-piano occasionally taking up a percussion part, sublime piano-based transitions. Mellotron shimmers appropriately. Of especial delight is a brilliantly arranged piano-bass-drums-vocal-mellotron 'remember' section, and the incredibly accurate and detailed vocal arrangements. The entire piece is without slips, and repeats are either used imaginatively or effectively reinforce the ideas included in the piece without feeling patronising or vestigial. Great piece of music.

Working All Day begins with an odd distorted guitar, as a twist on a more energetic blues energy. More blues-based vocals come into play, and sax wallows and throbs appropriately in the background. Dark harpsichord makes a most unexpected appearance. Following the deceptively loud verses, the piece manically wanders around for a bit, featuring a couple of off-beat acoustics and organ. The third verse bursts in with renewed ideas and vigour, and the piece concludes calmly. The characterisation is strong, if a little obvious.

Peel The Paint is introduced with soft vocals, and violin (both picked and full-blown cello-accompanied pastoral hums) is the most prominent idea. Organ contrasts it cunningly, and the descending bass directs it carefully before changing speed abruptly to move onto the much harder, guitar-backed piece's explosion. The piece provides an excellent opportunity for one of Gary Greene's solos, an incredible, winding, screechy creature with speed playing and excellent taste mixed. A very forceful and musically immaculate piece, and the lyrical material is evocative.

Mr. Class And Quality begins with a sarcastically played organ, and merges with the conclusion. Bass foreshadows the fiddle riff, and the vocals come in quite soon, with one of the strongest and most easily related-to characterisations I've ever heard. The vocals in themselves are quite carefully sung, with a very precise edge. Organ is a prominent part of the whole, and is supplemented by moog and distorted and bluesy guitar as the other leads. Mocking and playful, and certainly satyrical, the arrangement is again immaculate, and somehow combines chaos with order without a moment of pause. The piece moves onto the conclusion with limited distinction and much overlap, so I'll stick to this paragraph. The conclusion is majestically tied together by organ and mellotron, with vocals bringing the links back to us now we've seen the individual ideas.

So, all-in-all, a very strong album, and one with some entirely outstanding moments. There is no person in the midst of prog fans, even the most stringent hater of Gentle Giant, who should avoid this album. Certainly tragically forgotten from all of our 'best concept album' polls where everyone gets the chance to bash The Lamb and TFTO again. The least bloated concept album I've heard, and worthy of a healthy four stars. Were it not for a couple of moments, where, despite my admiration, my interest isn't quite held (most notably on the Prologue), I might hand the album the fifth.

Rating: Four Stars. Essential. Recommended to everybody. Favourite Track: Schooldays or Mr. Class And Quality/Conclusion. I feel no need to decide.

TGM: Orb | 4/5 |

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